Next week San Francisco will be welcoming passengers to the newly renovated, renamed Harvey Milk Terminal.

From July 23, the new terminal will be welcoming travellers from around the world to the City by the Bay.

Named after the California's first openly gay politician to be elected to office, the NZ$3.7 billion terminal was designed "in the spirit of the Golden Age of Travel."

The all-gender (unisex) restrooms and an individual Carrier System for baggage handling are also firsts for an American airport.

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Central to the public areas of the terminal will be an exhibit on the life and impact of Harvey Milk as a civil rights activist for the LGBTQ community. As a member of the city's Board of Supervisors until his assassination in 1978, Milk was California's first openly gay official to be elected to office.

For all: Unisex toilets in San Francisco's Harvey Milk terminal. Photo / Chris McGinnis, SF Gate
For all: Unisex toilets in San Francisco's Harvey Milk terminal. Photo / Chris McGinnis, SF Gate

The airport proudly proclaims it proudly as the "first airport terminal in the world to be named after a member of the LGBTQ community".

However, this isn't quite true.

San Franciscan's need only fly east to Italy. Here they will find the eponymous Leonardo da Vinci International Airport.

Rome–Fiumicino was named after the Italian artist, thinker and tinkerer - who is also widely accepted as a practicing homosexual.

Da Vinci was Italy's thoroughly modern Renaissance man who was ahead of his time in many ways. Although, Leonardo arrested twice for romantic dalliances with men – which was illegal in the late 1400s – Italy has since embraced the inventor as a national treasure. They named the Rome-Fiumicino Airport after Leonardo in 1961.

Visitors arrive for World Gay Pride in Rome in 2000. Photo / Getty Images
Visitors arrive for World Gay Pride in Rome in 2000. Photo / Getty Images

In 2000 the airport became the gateway to the city for the first WorldPride Parade, the same year academics proclaimed that they had little doubt that Leonardo was gay.

Likewise in Germany, Albrecht Dürer lent his name to Nuremberg's international airport in 2014.

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Suitably, the divisive figure of Alexander the Great lends his name to not one but two international airports.

Kavala International Airport in northern Greece named a terminal after the general, while the twin 'Alexander Airport' is across the border in what is now Northern Macedonia.

Although the General's name was dropped from the Macedonian building in 2018, after Greek flights refused to fly to Skopje, both countries claim Alexander III of Macedon as a cultural icon.

Greece and Northern Macedonia were less willing – however – to accept him as a gay icon.

Skopje airport, previously known as Alexander the Great, in Northern Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia. Photo / Getty Images
Skopje airport, previously known as Alexander the Great, in Northern Macedonia, formerly known as Macedonia. Photo / Getty Images

Ancient and modern writers have discussed the leader's intimate relations, particularly to general Hephaestion, as an open secret.

Academic symposiums have been protested in Macedonia for hinting at Alexander's homosexuality and Oliver Stone was served legal papers by Greeks over the depiction of a bisexual warrior king in his 2004 film Alexander.

Whether the national heroes who have lent their name to these airports were openly "members of the LGBTQ community" – as SFO put it – is muddied by the passage of time.

Let's face it, these historical characters were around long before air travel.

Harvey Milk can however be celebrated as the first whose LGBTQ activism has to be acknowledged as part of his legacy, and now that of the airport.

Not just something to be celebrated or ignored to suit the prevailing political winds.

While Harvey Milk Terminal 1 joins a great pantheon of airports named after local heroes, San Francisco airport welcomes all travellers to a more tolerant city. One that Milk helped forge.